In defence of polo

Updated: Nov 13 2005, 05:30am hrs
Any attempt at showcasing polos charm and thrill gets overshadowed by the impression that it is just a prerogative of the rich, or at best, an instinctive indulgence for some military personnel. A glimpse of a venue of the game, where members of some royal families with Bollywood glitterati and designers further distances the game from the average Indian.

Not everybody agrees though. Says Samir Suhag, who has represented India five times in the World Cup and captained the national side on many occasions: Yes, playing polo is an expensive affair. You need to have a well-bred, docile pony, which may sometimes cost you some hundred thousand rupees. And you might need some six ponies to play throughout the year. That apart, you should possess a healthy body that is fit enough to undertake any adventure.

But you can have a horse at just a little over Rs 100 at the Army Club to play the game, adds Suhag. Of course, you need to register yourself as a member.

However, the question still remains pertinent why do few people play the game when richness is also abound The answer is not far to seek.

Says Colonel RS Sodhi, who dominated the countrys polo scenario from 1960 onwards Adventure is the other name of the game. You need guts to play polo. Hitting the target from the top of a running horse is not so easy. There are people who are rich but afraid of playing. Sounds like a trifle No way.

History is testimony to the death of some bravehearts from Qutbuddin Aibak, the founder of the Slave Dynasty, to Nawab Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, father of cricketer Tiger Pataudi.

So does the possibility of disastrous consequences sound a warning bell for those with hearts Not quite. Colonel Sodhi echoes the same. Five years ago, a very few people were ready to sponsor the game. Only some royal families, as usual, were stealing the show.

So why should people take to polo putting their at stake for relatively poor returns compared to some other sports But with sponsors like Chivas Regal hosting an internatoinal polo tournament every year and with other sponsors lining up, there is some silver lining for the equestrian sport.

The global polo scenario is also in a transition phase. With the US leading the 5way, countries like Canada, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are doing their bit to popularise the game.

Says Clive Hill, captain of the South African side at the recently concluded Chivas Regal polo tournament, the situation in South Africa is quite similar to that in India.

The popularity of polo is gradually gaining momentum. In spite of the myths that may at times threaten to cloud the splendour of the sport, polo is a game with some rare distinctions.

You can watch it without paying any entry fee for it. A sense of equality prevails. Unlike cricket, where a weak team like Bangladesh has to play with Australia, despite being sure of a meek surrender at the end, in a handicap tournament, only equals are matched.

Every player possesses some goals, like grades in some other sports, awarded to him by a national committee based on his performance.

A player can, at best, have ten goals to his credit. In a twenty-goal handicap match, goals of players of both the team must be the same, that is twenty.

If one team has 2 more goals than the rival team, the rival team will enter the field with 2 on their scoreboard. Only in the open tournaments, the best two teams with any number of goals can participate.

But if polo has to survive the test of time, it must rise above its royal-game tag, and at the same time, common people must stop being snobbish towards its supposedly rich connection.

There must be an effort to understand the complex processes that prevent the sport from being popular as cricket in India. Here media has a crucial role to play in bringing to light the splendour of the sport. At the end of the day, people have to be convinced why they should play or watch polo.